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March 2002
"It was either an act of insanity or an act of complete bravery," admits Pat Flynn, vice president of sales for Blanks Color Imaging in Dallas. "But, the first job we ran on our new computer-to-plate system was an absolutely magnificent catalog of Renaissance paintings. We should get the medal of honor, because we did it. It turned out so beautifully."

That's the kind of faith that owner Leron Blanks and his production staff had in a newly installed, but virtually untested, CTP system they installed at the beginning of 2001. The system—including a Creo Lotem 800B platesetter, a Kodak Approval XP4 digital proofing system and a Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) CTP1 compact thermal processing system using KPG's Thermal Printing Plate/830—lived up to Blanks' high expectations.

"The catalog was for the new exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth," Flynn explains. "We ran it on the new system with the complete approval of the art director. Ordinarily we'd run this job at a 150- or 170-line screen, but we were going to a 200- to 240-line screen on the new system. We couldn't have done that without the new equipment."

Producing display-quality images at such high resolutions usually would prompt the art director to demand multiple proofs and press sheets until the printer produced the quality required. "That's not how it went this time," Flynn recalls. "The art director signed off on the first or second proofs. You could cut these pictures out of the catalog and hang them on the wall. Every detail came through—you can see the brush strokes in the paintings. It was an absolutely wonderful success story."

The pages were cleaner, no hickeys—just flawless, according to Blanks, president and sole stockholder. "They approved the proofs to color very quickly on-press, and they really liked the heavy saturation of inks and good density. We couldn't do that before with a piece like this. It would just have too much dot gain on-press."

Known in the industry as a "print logistics" company, managing the entire print production process, from image and text files to mailing and distribution, Blanks Color Imaging prides itself on its 60-year history of observing and adopting new technologies. The $20 million company specializes in high-end printing work for customers ranging from JC Penney and American Airlines to advertising agencies including McCann Erickson, keeping its five-, six- and eight-color Heidelberg presses running continuously.

Eye on the Competition

When it came to the transition from conventional printing to an all-digital workflow, including CTP technology, Blanks took a wait-and-see attitude before leaping to the next level. "I kept watching most of our competitors," he says, "and they would buy two platesetters because they were not as reliable as the lines already in place. So if one went down, you had to have a second machine as a backup, which you might also use for proofing. That's very expensive—we didn't want to do that."

Blanks kept a close eye on the market, and finally decided to make the move when he heard about the merger of Creo and Scitex, and saw their work with KPG.

"They put the best of all possible worlds together," he adds. "We were already a big Scitex and Kodak Polychrome Graphics user. We use both Kodak Approval Classics and two Approval XP4s, and we still have a lot of prepress work that has to be proofed for web printing outside of the building. So we needed our XP4s for those accounts, as well as to integrate them into the printing environment. And we only wanted one CTP unit. All in all, our new system has really been a great blend of equipment."

KPG's CTP1 compact thermal processing system is an integrated equipment and chemistry system consisting of a preheating module, a thermal plate processor and an optional post-baking rinse gum unit (the "Quick Bake"). The system is said to require 75 percent less floor space than conventional plate processors, cuts chemistry consumption by 40 percent and reduces electricity usage by 80 percent.

The slow-and-steady approach to this transition paid off for Blanks in ways beyond his expectations. "Our system is very fast, much more so than what we could have bought a couple of years ago. It turns out plates so quickly, we have no problem flowing the plates and keeping up with the presses.

"I've watched a lot of press okays," Blanks continues, "and some of the more difficult ones on very critical jobs used to take 45 minutes, an hour or even longer. Now it takes maybe 20 minutes, if we get it approved on the second or third pull. The difference is in the registration; the new system is extremely fast on register. And there's no dirt on the plates because there's no film, saving a lot of time we used to lose in remaking the plates."

Getting jobs done faster means that Blanks has the capacity to produce more jobs than ever before, and has stepped up its marketing efforts recently to bring in additional business. "We've toured customers through the area to show them how the machine operates, but our best marketing is in the final printed pieces," Blanks concludes.

"Now when customers come in for press okays, and the look they want is high-density ink on paper, they really notice the difference. There is no comparison—it's like night and day. In fact, many of our clients won't let us run their critical jobs with film. They want to eliminate the film and go to CTP."

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